Another check marked can be applied to one of the films on my Produced and Abandoned Must See list. And, of all places, it's viewing came courtesy of IFC. Yes, in between their 125th showing of a film called "Let Him Have It", the channel slipped in ONE showing of Eagle Pennell's seminal Texas cult film. It felt like the proverbial needle in the haystack.
Pennell's second film, which has been marked as the inspiration for filmmakers like Richard Linklater and Robert Rodriguez, tells the simple, drunkenly tale of the patrons of a bar in Houston during its last night in operation. With a few exterior shots in the very beginning as Ichabod (Steven Mattila) and his girlfriend Mary (Tina Bess Hubbard) drive to the Alamo bar, Pennell's film is an example of indie filmmaking on a sparse budget. Even though the city of Houston is largely unrepresented, the languid and humid coastal Texas summer setting hangs over every frame of the film. It's the type of heat that we've all experienced- we drink to stay cool and never stay cool because we get drunk. 99% of the movie takes place inside the dank Alamo bar where sunlight seems to act as bright rays of sun that sends piercing stabs into the bar darkness. And the assorted cast huddled inside the bar- the brash and good looking Cowboy (Sonny Carl Davis), the drunk and lovelorn Claude (Lou Perryman)- hover from the light and sink deeper into their drinks as the night wears on. There are fights, shotguns pulled, LOTS of swear words (from a very liberal and rambling script by Texas screenwriter Kim Henkel best known for his collaboration with Tobe Hooper on "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre") and fights that threaten to break up relationships...everything that routinely happens in a beer-swigging, loose Texas bar on its final night of business.
"Last Night At the Alamo" breaks no new rules. The joy of the film lies in its rag-tag bunch of layabouts and misanthropes. The most dynamic character, Cowboy is just that- a boot wearing, smooth talking, long sleeve shirt wearing good 'ol boy who blows into the bar and gets everyone whooping and hollering. He eventually hooks up with the prettiest woman in the bar (Amanda Lamar) who ends up in the bar with her friend, overdressed and "slumming", pisses her off, starts a fight, and drives away in the same drunkened state that seems to cap off every night. At that's precisely the underlying point of "Last Night At the Alamo", an ironic title if I've ever heard one. Even though the Alamo is closing- an event that hints at an economic depression in the area- and a stalwart establishment is taking its leave, the Ichabods and Cowboys and Claudes of the world will continue their merry-go-round of drinking and talking long after the Alamo fades in their memory. They'll just drink and flirt and fight somewhere else. Tomorrow night will be the first night somewhere else. Pennell accurately captures this passing of time with humor and grandiose Texas swagger. And from all the stories I've read of him, Cowboy may be his alter ego. "Last Night At the Alamo" is definitely a film worth waiting for. Now, if only IFC would schedule MORE shwoings of it.